(Extracts courtesy of A.N.T.A. publications, Ranger Hope © 2022




International Maritime Law and the IMO

Australian Maritime Legislation

Australian Domestic Standards

National Law and Marine Orders






Marine Legislation, the administration and regulation of seafarers practice, is not new. It has evolved since the earliest recorded Rhodian Law of the Ancient World (900BC) in response to the hard lessons of tragedy to ships, seafarers and environment . In the Middle Ages the Laws of Oleron further codified rules for fair dealing and port access. Later Visbury, Hague and Admiralty Laws continued the theme. In the 19th Century ship construction & maintenance was significantly improved by private insurance companies, called Classification Societies. Shipping investors enjoyed low insurance rates & higher resale value of their ships by building to the classification rules. Seafarers were first protected by load lines to show minimum freeboard (preventing overloading) and minimum lifesaving and firefighting equipment was mandated.

Classification Societies blossomed worldwide (including ABS American Bureau of Shipping , GL Germanischer Lloyd, NV Det Norsk Veritas, Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, LR Lloyds Register, IN Registry Italiano Navale and many more). They still keep registers of ships that meet building and manning standards (initial surveys) and passed regular structural/safety gear inspections (periodic surveys). In Australia the Commonwealth of Australia performed this function, at first delegating the smaller domestic vessels regulation (boats under 80 mtrs operating within the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone of 200nm offshore) and recreational vessels to the State Governments.

In 2013 the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) took over the administration and regulation of Small Domestic Commercial Vessels (DCVs) from the States. Information is available at Regulation of recreational vessels remains with their home States, as does marine pollution and traffic regulation within State waters (to 3nm offshore).





Most Nations claim territorial waters to 3nm or 12/15nm offshore. With the agreement of their neighbours many claim exclusive economic rights (zones) to 200nm offshore for mining & fishing. However, concerns that visitor ships of poor structure and practice could block their ports, stifle their trade and pollute their seas led to International negotiations on maritime matters. Most recently the United Nations formed the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as a forum to promote sea safety. The standards of World’s best practice agreed at those forums (called "Conventions") have subsequently been incorporated in many national regulations, including Australian Commonwealth and State Laws. They include but are not limited to:


COLREGS (International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea)

SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea)

STCW (Standards of Training and Certification of Watckkeepers)

MARPOL (Marine Pollution Convention)

IMDG (International Dangerous Goods Code)

GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System)

ISM (International Safety Management Code 2002)

LAW of the SEA

COLREGS (International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea)

The Convention specifies standard rules for the conduct of all vessels (recreational or commercial) in any waters. In addition they specify a system of lights, day shapes and sound signals to help boats recognise one another and proceed safely. The collision regulations, sometimes called the "Rules of the Road", must be known and fully understood by all mariners.

Part A -General
Application and definitions.

Part B -Steering and Sailing Rules

Section 1.
The rules in Section 1 always apply, regardless of the visibility. Broadly, every vessel must keep a proper lookout, proceed at a safe speed, be able to determine if a risk of collision exists and know what action to take if the risk does exist.

Section 2.
The rules in this section only apply when boats can see one another (including night time).
It generally implies that when two vessels meet one has the duty to maintain her course and speed (called the ‘stand on’ vessel) and the other must give way (called the ‘give way’ vessel).

Section 3.
The rules in this section apply when boats are not in sight of one another (in restricted visibility).
There is only one rule in this section and it generally implies that every boat shall proceed with utmost caution and take avoiding action to keep clear of other boats. That is, no one has a right of way if they cannot see each other.

Part C Lights and Shapes.
Identification of the status of a vessel according to her ability to manoeuvre at night by lights or in daylight by dayshapes.

Part D Sound and Lights Signals.
Communication between vessels according to their ability to manoeuvre by sound signals or at night by lights.

Part E Exemptions.
Rule 38

Technical specifications.
Of the lights and shapes

Link to the Collision Regulations


SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea)

The Convention specifies:
* Common standards for equipment and practice in its use.
* Standards for safety gear construction.
* Developing plans of action.
* Drills and musters.


STCW (Standards of Training and Certification of Watckkeepers)

The Convention specifies common standards for training, certification and operational management plans including:
* Bridge and Engineering watch management.
* Restricted visibility management.
* Emergency procedures.
* Standing orders


MARPOL (Marine Pollution Convention)

The Convention specifies:
* No plastic dumping.
* Limited garbage dumping.
* Operational oils and ballast discharging.
* Waste and sewerage management plans.
* Construction of tankers.


IMDG (International Dangerous Goods Code)

The Convention specifies:

* Classification of materials
* Handling, labelling, packaging and manifest procedures.
* Stowage and separation.
* Precautions and spill mitigation.


GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System)

The Convention specifies:
* Priority and distress communications equipment and use.
* Coordination of responsibility for search and rescue worldwide.
* Techniques and methods for search and rescue


ISM (International Safety Management Code 2002)

The Convention obliges a twelve point framework for mitigating risk. The Safety Management objectives of the Company must:
* Provide for safe practices and a safe working environment;
* Establish safeguards against all identified risks;
* Continuously improve safety management skills of personnel ashore and aboard ships, including preparing for safety and environmental emergencies.
* Document the Safety Management System (SMS)


LAW of the SEA

The Convention specifies mutual obligations regarding international relations and territorial matters.





Historical notes

Until recently large ships only were regulated by the Commonwealth of Australia. Small domestic and recreational vessels were regulated by the States. Domestic Commercial Vessels (DCVs) are trading vessels under 80 mtrs that ply within the 200nm offshore Australian Economic Zone. The States worked towards common standards for their commercial domestic fleet by mutually adopting a voluntary code of practice called the Uniform Shipping Laws Code (USL). To varying degrees the recommendations of the USL were incorporated into each State's regulations. The USL Code was subsequently updated by the National Standards for Commercial Vessels (NSCV). In 2013 the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) also took over the administration and regulation of both large seagoing ships and DCVs under the legislation of:

International Australian Vessels principally by the "Navigation Act 2012, the Navigation Regulation 2013" and updating Marine Orders (MOs).

Domestic Commercial Vessels principally by the "Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012", its Regulation and MOs/NSCV.

Administration of recreational vessels remains with the States under their recreational Laws and Regulations. Consequently many small vessels built before 2012 may have been approved under USL or NSCV specifications, as described below. Current AMSA information is available at

Note: "Laws" or "Acts" proscribe what is legal, "Regulations" define enforcement measures, "Marine Orders" update the regulations and supportive documents (NSCV, IMO Conventions, etc) reference specifications for the Regulation.




Superseded USL Code

The USL code is mentioned here as some existing vessels will have been built to that code's specifications, and may have grandfathered permits to continue operations. The USL Code standards were enforced in individual states through each states' marine legislation. NSW State legislation, for example, created an offence and provided a penalty for a boat putting to sea without the ‘required’ safety equipment. It would have referred to Section 10 of the USL Code (Life Saving Appliances) which listed the required safety equipment for a particular size boat within an operational area. While there are similarities and overlaps, the USL Code has been superseded by the National Standards for Commercial Vessels
Before construction of a new vessel commenced, the plans of the intended vessel along with all such details as required were submitted to the appropriate authority. Only after approval of this "Initial Survey" could construction begin.The aim was to ensure that the vessel was built is of rigid construction and complied with the basic requirements as listed in the USL Code for a vessel of her type and size. A ‘survey’ was a thorough examination performed by, or in the presence of a surveyor or an authorised person or society. An ‘inspection’ was a visual inspection performed by an approved person. Once construction began, surveyors inspected the construction process to ensure that:

* The materials being used are of a certain minimum standard.

* The vessel being constructed actually represents the plans.

* There is a minimum standard of the quality of construction, i.e. making sure that the welds are done properly, that sections are joined in the correct sequence and workmanship is of a high standard.

After construction was complete the vessel is surveyed once more and a Certificate of Survey was issued. Certificates of Survey were usually valid for one year therefore all vessels have to undergo a Periodic Survey annually. During the course of any survey or inspection, the surveyor may require the opening up for examination of any other part or parts of the vessel including removal of linings and permanent ballast where applicable. After a survey or inspection the surveyor made a list of repairs and deficiencies and a copy was handed over to the Master. The survey is not considered completed until such repairs and/or deficiencies have been made good to the satisfaction of the surveyor. A surveyor may board any vessel at all reasonable times to make an occasional or random inspection. The owner of the vessel is required to inform the appropriate authority of any changes which may lead to a change in the survey requirements for that vessel, e.g. any change of trade, alteration to structure or machinery, etc.

The following is a list of certificates as were required under USL to be carried by small commercial vessels:

* Certificate of Survey
* Load Line Certificate/Load Line Exemption Certificate
* Ship Station Licence
* Compass Adjusters Declaration
* Life Saving Appliance Certificate - Liferaft Certificate
* Fixed Fire Extinguishing Installation
* Certificate(s) of Competency.
* Vessel Registration Certificate

There were eighteen sections of the USL Code, five of which are summarised below:

Section 1 – Definitions and General requirements

Each vessel had a trading classification as follows:
Class 1 – Passenger vessels (carrying more than 12 passengers).
Class 2 – Non-passenger (trading) vessels. These include tugs and workboats as well as small passenger carrying charter boats with 12 or less passengers, eg game fishing boats.
Class 3 – Registered commercial fishing vessels (which are not allowed to carry any passengers).
Class 4 – Hire & drive vessels

Each class of vessel had an operational area classification as follows:
A – unlimited seagoing
B – offshore to 200 nautical miles
C – offshore to 30 nautical miles
D – smooth and partially smooth waters
E – smooth waters only

Section 10 – Life Saving Appliances

The first part of Section 10 described how the various types of safety equipment are stowed, any markings that may be required and any periodic maintenance or replacement life span.

Liferaft certificate valid for one year, therefore they are serviced annually by an approved service centre.

Section 11 – Fire Appliances

Gives general information about the maintenance and servicing of portable and fixed fire extinguishing appliances. 

The fixed firefighting system will have a Certificate of Service stating that it meets all of the relevant requirements of the Code. The installation is serviced annually by an approved agent and a service certificate issued. The charge cylinder will be pressure tested and refilled at 5 yearly intervals (excepting CO2 which may be tested at 10 years) and a certificate will be issued.

Section 13 – Miscellaneous Equipment

Sections 10 and 11 provided for the basic equipment to keep you afloat, attract attention in an emergency and to fight fire. There is a range of other equipment required to make your vessel seaworthy and this is listed in Section 13. Items such as mooring lines, anchors, first aid kit, charts, compass and electronic aids do not find their way onto commercial boats by accident.

Section 15 – Emergency Procedures

Prior to the commencement of the USL Code there was little, if any, formal crew training taking place on small vessels. Crew training in emergency procedures on all vessels was addressed under the prescriptions of Section 15 (you had to do it as written).

* general emergencies (involving a muster and possible abandonment) practised at least monthly
* survival craft drills practised at least every 2 months for passenger vessels (Class 1) and 3 months for non passenger (Class 2) and fishing vessels (Class 3)* fire * drills practised every 2 or 3 months depending on the class of vessel
* collision drills (incorporating flooding) practised every 2 or 3 months depending on the class of vessel

Updating the Standards for DCVs

The USL Code and State Maritime Laws have been superseded by the National Standards for Commercial Vessels and Commonwealth (AMSA) Laws. Significant differences between the old and the new references for standards are:

* The USL code was prescriptive only – its fixed specifications by vessel class and plying zone did not facilitate the development of fast/novel craft. A more flexible approach was required. The NSCV retains a prescriptive approach to compliance standards (deemed to comply) and a more flexible option (an equivocal solution). The second allows boatbuilders & operators to use alternatives as long as they can demonstrate that they are as good as that specified in the deemed standards.

* Safety Management (risk mitigation) is central to the obligations of Owners, Masters and Crew for compliance in construction, operations and manning.

* Domestic Commercial Vessels may be "In Survey" and require a "Certificate of Survey" and an "Operational Certificate" or in "Non Survey" and require an Operational Certificate". They must be displayed along with any deficiency notice. Both are issued for 5 years, but checks are undertaken annually on the "Certificate of Survey".

* Domestic Commercial Vessels are required to have a regulations specified "Minimum Crew" (according to length to operate the vessel), or an "Appropriate Crew" (one sufficiently trained and appropriate to the particular trading voyage undertaken by the vessel).

The NSCV Standards (2020)

The National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) provides standards for vessel survey, construction, equipment, design, operation and crew competencies for domestic commercial vessels. AMSA has taken over the administration of Domestic Commercial Vessels (Vessels under 80 mtrs that ply within the 200nm offshore Australian Economic Zone). Some NSCV standards are being incorporated with National Law Marine Orders. Current information is essential and available at The standards at (Feb 2020) were:

Part B: General requirements

Each class of vessel also has an operations classification as follows:
Class 1..Passenger vessels.
Class 2..Non-passenger vessels. (Trading vessels such as tugs, workboats, game fishing boats, etc).
Class 3..Fishing vessels (commercial which are not allowed to carry any passengers).
Class 4.. Hire & drive vessel used by the hirer for recreational purposes.

Each class of vessel also has an operational area classification as follows:

A ..........Unlimited domestic operations (beyond 200nm from baseline of mainland)
Bext......Extended offshore operations (as specified)
B...........Offshore operations (to outer limits of EEZ, or 200nm from baseline of mainland)
C...........Restricted offshore operations (30nm from baseline of mainland or parent vessel, or 50nm in Great Barrier Reef)
Crest....Restricted offshore operations-specified areas
D...........Partially smooth water operations (as designated by the State Law, less than 1mtr significant wave height)
E...........Smooth waters operations (as designated by the State Law, less than 1/2mtr significant wave height)

Part C: Design and construction

Section C1: Arrangement, accommodation and personal safety
Section C2: Watertight and weathertight integrity
Sections of the USL Code to apply under the national system
Section C3: Construction
Section C4: Fire safety
Section C5: Engineering
Sub-section C5A: Machinery
Sub-section C5B: Electrical
Sub-section C5C: LPG systems for appliances
Sub-section C5D: LPG systems for engines
Section C6: Stability
Sub-section C6A: Intact stability requirements
Sub-section C6B: Buoyancy and stability after flooding
Sub-section C6C: Stability tests and stability information
Section C7: Equipment
•Class 1B—equipment list
•Class 1C—equipment list
•Class 1D—equipment list
•Class 1E—equipment list
•Class 2B—equipment list
•Class 2C—equipment list
•Class 2D—equipment list
•Class 2E—equipment list
•Class 3B—equipment list
•Class 3C—equipment list
•Class 3D—equipment list
•Class 3E—equipment list
Sub-section C7A: Safety equipment

Part D: Crew competencies

Guidance and syllabus

Part E: Operations

See marine order 504 for operation requirements for domestic commercial vessels.

Part F: Special vessels

Section F1: Fast craft
Sub-section F1A: General requirements for fast craft
Sub-section F1B: Category F1 fast craft
Sub-section F1C: Category F2 fast craft
Section F2: Leisure craft
Section F3: Novel vessels
Section F4: Special purpose vessels

Part G: Non survey vessels

•Class 2 and Class 3—equipment guidance
•Class 2E, 3E and 4E—equipment guidance
•Class 2D, 3D and 4D—equipment guidance
•Tender vessels (<7.5m and no longer than parent vessel)





AMSA regulates DCVs under the National Law, its Regulation and updating Marine orders and NSCV Standards.

Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012, and the

Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Regulation 2013,

regulate small Australian commercial vessels in that ply within its 200nm exclusive economic zone. The legislation has a raft of supportive National Law Act Marine Orders that update the regulations, and reference texts such as the the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV). NSCV is an Australia wide set of standards (specifications) about how Australian commercial boats are built, equipped and manned. For example, the limits of the Coxswain Certificate and the gear required on a fishing vessel are laid out in the NSCV. These standards are now being incorporated into Marine Orders series MO500. Current AMSA information is available at

The Current Marine Orders (2020)

National Law Act Marine Orders update and define the National Law and regulations. 501 Marine Order (Administration – national law)
502 Marine Order (Vessel identifiers – national law)
503 Marine Order (Certificates of survey – national law)
504 Marine Order (Certificates of operation and operation requirements – national law)
505 Marine Order (Certificates of competency – national law)
507 Marine Order (Load line certificates – national law)

Current information is essential and available at